By: Sharon Emerson
Illustrated by: Renee Kurilla
Publisher: Atheneum 
Publication Date: May 2010
ISBN: 978-1416995258
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 9, 2010

Vita Escolar is one cool young lady. She has a used guitar, can play (sort of, well, she knows a few chords) and she wants to start a band. Vita decides to hold an audition to find other talented folks to join her band. Unfortunately, those who show up at the audition aren’t exactly musically proficient.

Disappointed but not willing to accept defeat, Vita holds a second audition. When the same people show up, she decides they’ll have to do. But how can an activist, an artist, and two gamers make a band? Turns out that when they all work together, the band Zebrafish makes some pretty neat music.

While I was at first a bit confused at the cast of characters and their respective talents (youngsters will probably pick up on each immediately), once I had figured out who was who and which one was the gamer, etc., the story took hold and it was fun to read. Vita at first decides to raise funds from their concert to help pandas (Tanya, the activist, is partial to pandas). But when she runs into Tanya at the hospital and learns her new friend has leukemia, Vita makes the decision to raise money for cancer research instead. It is a touching tribute to friendship and making a difference without getting preachy.

There was plenty of pre-teen humor in Zebrafish and a few side stories that added to the plot. Early on, Vita wants, and finds, a dog who quickly wiggles his way into the girl’s heart. The playful dog insists on getting into trouble so watch out during the concert! Vita also looks up to her big brother, Pablo, who helps her and the band get started. It was nice to see siblings, and schoolmates all get along so well.

The vibrant illustrations in Zebrafish are a big part of why this book works so well. We see all the charm, and at times frustration, of life as a band leader in Vita’s expressions, drawn to perfection. The colors used help express the mood of each character too; for example, when Vita asks her brother about leukemia, the whole page is black with just the conversation, in white text, visible.

There is an afterward by Peter Reynolds, founder of Fablevision and part of the team that created Zebrafish,about how everybody can do something to make a difference. In addition, there is a website for the band and also one for getting involved.

Quill says: Zebrafish shows kids how getting involved can make a difference. Let’s hope many find a special cause and do just that!

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